Monday, May 16, 2016

Craft is Art

A while back Urban Threads (my favorite source for fabulous machine embroidery designs) capitalized on the current trend of adult coloring books by issuing a coloring contest for one of their embroideries.  They released the Craft is Art pattern free and challenged people to stitch it up and color it in.

The contest call came right as I was about to start painting in the quilting on my large illuminated manuscript quilt, and give the weird fabric that quilt is made out of, I had planned to do some paint/ink/marker tests before nearing my quilt. It seemed like this was the perfect opportunity, so I made a quilt sandwich out of the same fabric as my quilt top, stitched out the design and started coloring in.

I'm so glad I did because the surface of this fabric is really weird-  it's a think polyester fabric with a suede like finish, and come to find out, many of the things I was considering using on the quilt bled outside the lines.  The bleeding was so bad that I wound up adding more color outside the lines on purpose to give a sort of watercolor-wash effect.

Things I tried that did not stay inside their lines-  cheap acrylic paint cut with water, good acrylic fabric paint cut with water (like setacolor), fabrico markers (so sad about this), inktense pencils (likewise sad about this), sharpie, latex paint cut with water.  I usually really like diluting my paint a little with water just to make it easier to get down in crevices around the quilting, but I really found that I had to use the paints completely undiluted  if I wanted them to stay put on this particular fabric.  I also used some oil based enamel since it gives better metallic, and the color on it stays put fairly well, but occasionally the solvent separates and bleeds out giving a weird halo sort of effect.

It was pretty fun to color in though, and after coloring it, I quilted the background with multiple colors of silk thread using motifs to echo the embroidery pattern and bound it using organza.  From a practical standpoint, organza is a pretty dumb thing to bind with (hard to iron, very ravely, doesn't crease well), but I really wanted a light, glowy edge and I think this accomplished it.

So now I have a new little mini to hang on my wall!

Have you guys ever painted/colored in embroidery or quilting?  If so, what media did you use? I find it fairly tedious, but have used it now a couple of times, including in my Gloria Patri quilt.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Alien Game Mat

Anna's birthday was just a bit ago (she turned 4), and I recently saw this Silly Alien Beanbag project by one of my favorite bloggers, Mollie from Wild Olive.  I decided to make up a set for Anna, and it was a blast.

I did the mat a bit differently than Mollie, mine is grey fleece with a cotton binding and small moon craters appliqued on with rainbow satin stitch.   But really, the best part is the alien beanbags.  With their crazy eye and bright colors, you can't resist playing with them.

Anna and I played beanbag toss (can you land on the mat?  how about the big crater?  how about the small crater?) but even more fun was just playing aliens.  Alex wanted to get in on the fun too and we had a great time pretending to be aliens on all the different grey planets.  Thanks to Mollie for such a fun project!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Embroidery Swap

I signed up for an instagram swap called #Bigstitchswap2 being hosted by the lovely Sarah and Cindy of FairyFace Designs and Fluffy Sheep Quilting, respectively.  I've had an instagram account for a while, but I never posted anything, so this was a fun chance to get to use it more.

The swap was for a small piece featuring some amount of hand stitching.  Some people were making pouches, or mini-quilts, or journal covers, etc.  I decided to do a clock, and because I've been on a hand embroidery kick lately, I decided to do some more of that.  Recently, Mary Corbet (of Needle'N Thread) had a sale on her fabulous PDF embroidery books and I picked up her monogram alphabet book.  It's really fabulous, it has great stitch pictures and descriptions as well as instructions for making the letters and suggestions for switching up stitches.  If you're at all interested in embroidery, her website is great.

Anyway, using it as a guide, I stitched up the following for my partner.  I started on the J, then decided it needed a bird, so I stitched that in.  Don't worry about the blue marker in the bird closeup, it's that water-erasable marker and is gone now.  Afterward I pieced the letter into a background, embroidered a clock face and some accent stems, and wrapped the whole thing around a set of 8x10 canvas-covered stretcher bars.  The last step was putting the clockwork in.

I had a fun time working on this, and hope my partner enjoys it!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Easter Crafts

Talk about getting behind!  Just before Easter, I was lucky enough to get to have Walker and Raegan over to do Easter crafts.  They'are always so enthusiastic, and we did a couple of different things, but my favorite was the string-wrapped Easter eggs.  I remember making these as a kid and loving them, and then trying again as an adult, with only limited success, so I was determined to make it work this time!  After some trolling around online, here's what worked for us.

1. Soak a ball of thin cotton string in starch for a while (maybe about an hour)?  I put the string and starch in a ziploc bag and that seemed to work ok.
2.  Cover workspace with plastic and pour ball/starch into a bowl.
3. Wrap string around a blown up balloon all over-  don't try to leave a hole for the opening, it will make you crazy.
4. Put string wrapped balloon in oven at ~200 for about an hour.  Alternatively you can let them dry overnight, but they need to be really really dry, and it's really tempting to poke the balloon out.  We actually cooked in the oven for about an hour, then I turned off the oven and just left them in there until the next morning.
5.  Carefully pop balloon.  Mark where you want the opening to be using a marker and then cut out with sharp scissors.
6. Hot glue trim or rick rack around the opening to help stabilize loose open edges.
7.  Stuff with Easter grass and candy!

Walker wanted red thread with turquoise rick-rack and Raegan wanted pastel rainbow with pink ribbon.  I used pastel rainbow thread but went with creamy brown ribbon.

Of course afterward, there were still partial rolls of starch-soaked thread with which it is impossible to do anything else, so I made a couple more.

We also painted canvases, using cut out letters as resists, and the kids seemed to like the negative space leftover when we peeled off the letters.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


When I look back I see it's been almost a month and a half since my last update, and even before that things were sparse, short, and not really in-depth about my ongoing artwork.  Part of that is because some of the projects I'm working on are for entries with restrictions on showing things before the entry, part of that is because I've been working on my same large illuminated manuscript quilt and I feel like continual tiny updates are boring, part of it is because I feel like I don't have energy for more than look-what-I-made-today posts, which I think are sometimes less valuable than thoughtful posts describing why I'm working on something or even how.  However, the largest reason for my absence and slow progress is just life.  We all have it, and shifting obligations really impact what gets posted here.   The fact is, that sharing what I'm working on has to come behind actually working on what I'm working on, and sadly that has had to take a backseat to other outside commitments.

But I really like posting, and showing what I'm working on, if only because it's a fun record for me, a way to look back at how I'm spending my time.

I'm in a slightly better frame of mind just now, having recently returned from a fabulous annual retreat with my mom (Vicki Conley) to the Empty Spools Seminars out in Asilomar CA.  I'm not generally a California girl, but as my mom says, Asilomar is truly the happiest place on earth.  Excitingly, my mom was artist-in-residence this year, and she was awesome.  Her lecture was great, and I was so proud that she got to share some of her work with such a receptive audience.  Here she is at her workspace with several of her in progress pieces up on the wall.

While there, I took a 5-day workshop with acclaimed artist and teacher Jean Wells Keenan and it was really wonderful.  It was very freeing to learn from her and work in her intuitive and free way.  I tend to work with a very precise plan, and so forcing myself to work with her approach was new, expanding, and very satisfying.  Much more about what I worked on in the workshop later, but for now just a few more pictures of Asilomar.

Yellow flowers in the morning, then the same flowers at midday.

Afternoon sun on Merrill Hall.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hand Embroidery

Recently our church vestry went on a retreat held at our diocesan summer camp (St. Crispins for any Oklahomans) and the beautiful setting and relaxing environment made me return home in the mood for some hand embroidery.  We closed by singing this Sam Baker song-  it's a lovely way to wrap up, and I love the echos to Come thou fount, one of my favorite traditional hymns.

Anyway, I decided to do a piece of hand embroidery referencing that text and turn it into a cover for my three ring binder full of vestry paperwork.  I sketched it out ahead of time, and then just stitched away.  My stitches aren't very even- clearly I need work on my satin stitch, but overall I'm pleased with how it came out.  By the time I got to the words I was done hand stitching, so I decided to do those free-motion on my sewing machine.

I made the binder cover so that one inside flap has an integrated pencil case and the other size has a pocket to hold a notepad.  I always have a good time figuring out how to assemble things like that.

And on another hand stitching note-  I hand stitched my valentines this year!  Well- not really stitching, more like card-threading, but it was fun all the same.  I've always loved string art, so much so that I did a quilt using it a few years back, so I decided to take a simplified approach to it for my valentines.  It's just perle cotton on cardstock.

I was also inspired by some beautiful online calligraphy (I'm terribly ashamed that I can't remember where I saw it) to try some fun envelopes.

Although at the moment I've gone back to working on the quilting on my big two panel quilt, there's more embroidery/hand stitching in my future as I've signed up for the big stitch swap being hosted by Fairy Face Designs.  This is my first instagram swap, so it's a new approach for me!

Friday, March 4, 2016

More Quilting

I feel like I've been quilting on my large Eucharistic Prayer C quilt forever.  I still love this project, but it feels like the quilt that is never ending.  Alas, there is still much more quilting left to go and then painting, so the end is not yet in sight.   I've been getting so bored and frustrated with the quilting that it's been hard to get motivated to work on it, but it's not like I'm at a design standstill or anything so I feel like I should just force myself to push through.  I keep telling myself that it will take even longer to finish if I don't work on it.

I realized the other day that I haven't actually shared any updates on it since this very brief snapshot before Christmas, so I figured I was due to show some progress.

The background of the large borders on both panels is quilted in green, red, blue, and purple and will eventually be painted in.  The green is fairly continuous, but the red blue and purple aren't which means tons of stops and starts.  Added to all the color changes in each vignette and I feel like I spend twice as much time burying threads as I do quilting.

Wow this is turning whiny!!!  I better stop and just show some pictures :)
These are a few of my favorites of the quilted images.

And here's the back of one of the panels which is mostly finished (quilting wise).  I think the back looks pretty cool, apart from the giant ripple bump in the backing which I didn't discover until hours of quilting had gone over it.

I'm going off now to be inspired by all the rest of the creatives out there and hopefully exit the other side in a better frame of mind!!  Linking up as always with the awesome Nina Marie.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

New Lights Quilt

I finished the big layered quilt I've been blogging about and got the show entry done (hooray).  I'll post final pictures of it after I hear back from the show.  Before I go back to my other big illuminated quilt, I thought I'd do a couple of small projects.

A couple of years ago I made some really small (like 7 x 9) quilts inspired by the light-wrapped  trees we see so many places here during the holidays.  I had some trouble with the foiling and glue and had always wanted to come back to the idea.  When our church's youth program asked me to donate an art quilt to their auction to raise money for the youth pilgrimage, I thought it was the perfect time.  

I worked slightly bigger this time, but used more or less the same approach as before.  The first layer is shiva paintsticks to sketch in the tree (using freezer paper stencils).  Then I screened/stenciled the foiling glue on.  This time I just used regular tacky glue and it worked fine for the screen and foil, although it was quite sticky and two prints was about all I could get out of it.  I did figure that I might as well make at least two of them since I went to all the trouble to cut the screens/stencils again.  The quilts finished at ~12 x 16 but I decided to mount them on fabric-wrapped 14 x 18 canvases.  I think it gives a bit more presence for a small quilt and certainly makes them easier to hang.  I love that the black fabric I chose has some pattern in it, it's almost like some sort of black-on-black brocade weave, so there's some variation in the color of the background.

So fun for a short project.  I'm giving the one with the green tree to the church kids and hope that it finds a new home during the auction and raises a bit of money for their trip.

Lights at Chesapeake #3, 2016 c.Shannon Conley

Lights at Chesapeake #4, 2016, Shannon Conley

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Crest Trail Continued

I've been working along on my new topography quilt, and thought I'd share a little bit about how I'm actually assembling all the layers.  

This is the quilted background after I painted it.  Don't fret about it's wretchedness, most of it will be covered up by layers.  I only painted the middle sections because the paint does stiffen the fabric a little bit and I thought that might be helpful down the road.

Here you can see that I've strung about 30 pieces of flower wire through the quilt and back up to the top.  In each case about 8" or so is sticking up.  It took a fair amount of marking on each layer and on the base to get these in exactly the right spot to go through all the layers, but sadly I neglected to take a picture of that step.  Each piece of wire has a plastic bead on it which will make the layers stay separated.

Here you can see that I've threaded the first layer (8000 feet) onto the middle section by poking the flower wire through the fabric layer.  I've put another set of beads on in preparation for the next layer.

Here you can see I've paused midway through putting the fourth layer on so you can gen an idea of how it assembles.  All those wires get kind of tangled up but are way easier to deal with than 30 threads going at once (how I did it last time) which was a nightmare.

And skipping ahead about 8 hours, here you can see that I've finished assembling all the layers on the middle section and have moved on to the next section.  This whole process was a bit hard on the fingers, and the flower wire was a bit hard to poke through the fabric, but it worked.  After building up all the layers, I threaded the ends of the wire back through to the back of the quilt, twisted the two ends together, and then buried the ends individually.  That part took forever, and unfortunately I pulled some of the wires too tight and still have to go back and undo them so the front isn't crushed.

In any case, you get the idea! So far, I'm loving the way the layers ripple.  Hopefully I'll get it finished soon since the show deadline which I'm aiming for is coming up quickly!

Linking up with Nina Marie as always!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Project! Crest Trail

My patiently-waiting-long-suffering large Eucharistic Prayer C quilt is once again on the back burner while I work on something for an upcoming show deadline.  Growing up we did tons of hiking in "our" mountains, more commonly known as the Lincoln National Forest/White Mountain Wilderness.  We hiked with our parents, we hiked with all our friends (hi Tristan! and Chloe! and Lori!), we hiked with the girl scouts, we hiked with the ski team, we hiked with the dogs.  Later on, we hiked with our boyfriends, and our parents' friends, and our cousins.

Though there were lots of trails, my favorite has always been the six mile trek between Monjeau lookout and the ski area- Crest Trail #25.  It was beautiful, and fairly flat, and had fabulous rocks for climbing, and picnicking.  Up above the trailhead at Monjeau was the fire lookout tower to climb up, and the ladybug bush.  I have more pictures from hikes on this trail than any other, including almost a whole roll of "picturesque" shots of the trail 25 sign I took with my very first camera when I was about 8 years old.  Anyway, before I write a book of hiking stories (remember that one time when....), I should get back to the point, which is the new quilt.

Back last fall, when I was working on my small topography quilt, it was really designed to be a technical exercise to work out how to make larger pieces based on an actual topo map.  After having figured out some things that absolutely did not work (stiff interfacing between the layers) and some things that did (using painted remay worked great), I decided to start a bigger piece, and what better subject than Crest trail.

I began by working from 1:24,000 USGS topo maps of the area.  I struggled with how to do it for a while- my original plan was to just get out my old White Mountain Wilderness map and trace the topo lines, but this turned into a huge disaster.  Come to find out, you can actually download USGS PDF maps that can be opened in illustrator and have editable layers.  Once you get them open in illustrator, the files are huge and have thousands (no exaggeration) of layers, so getting to a usable file was fraught.  Added to that was the fact that my area of interest crossed over two of the maps, and I had a fairly challenging data management problem to solve.  Anyway, I finally got my map pared down in Illustrator to the region surrounding Monjeau and the base of the ski area, and established 160 foot topo lines.  Each topo line would outline a layer to be cut out and built up to create a 3D quilt.  For precision cutting of the layers, I use my silhouette, but it's limited to 12 x 24, so I split the map into three panels.  The topo lines go from about 7,800 feet to almost 11,000, and the tallest points (Buck mountain) have 18 layers in them.

After finalizing my map, the next step was quilting the base.  I used remay on the front (since I wanted to paint it later to match the layers) and regular cotton on the back.  I decided the quilt the topo lines into the base to help line things up later, so I printed out a full size version of my map on newsprint and taped it down.   After quilting, I tore off the newsprint, and what a mess that was.

The next step was cutting the layers, and there were three separate silhouette cuts for each layer (elevation).  That is, there was the 8000 feet layer for the left panel, the right panel, and the middle panel.  It resulted in millions of little pieces, and to keep them all straight I printed out a page for each elevation so I'd know what pieces were supposed to be there.  I had to pull in every table around to have space to spread everything out, and for several days everyone was banned from the studio lest small weird pieces float away.  I painted all the pieces with latex and acrylic paint then let them all dry. The video clips below just show my studio filled with all the little pieces for each layer spread out on every available surface before and after painting (the sound is Star Trek, I'm rewatching TOS and it's a blast). 

Next week I'll share more about how I'm assembling the layers, but because these pictures have been pretty boring, here's a peek (peak? hahah bad puns for the win) of what all the layers look like just piled up (i.e. without spacers and not stitched down to anything).

I'm linking up with Nina-Marie as always, I hope you're having a productive and creative week!